Gwinnett Airport Privatization Wouldn't Necessarily Mean Jetliners

Commissioners and public hear consultants' thoughts on privatizing the county-owned airport.

The Gwinnett Board of Commissioners is ready for the next step in the potential privatization of the county-owned airport. But don't expect to book a cross-country flight out of Briscoe Field anytime soon.

A public-private partnership on the airport "is not a decision to allow passenger service," Infrastructure Management Group official Steve Steckler told commissioners Tuesday at an information session in Lawrenceville.

The commissioners' hearing with the consulting firm was to hear their thoughts on privatization and the Request For Proposal process. Pros and cons of commercial passenger service were discussed, but it is clear that that is another decision from whether to privatize Briscoe.

A private operator could have a "vision" of commercial service at Briscoe, IMG consultant Steve Steckler told the commissioners. But the authority on whether to allow commercial service "still rests with the county."

Commissioners voted 3-2 in May to proceed with discussions on privatization. Lynette Howard, Shirley Lasseter and Mike Beaudreau were in favor; Chairman Charlotte Nash and John Heard were opposed. Lasseter followed Tuesday's meeting via teleconference.

Nash said that Tuesday's hearing was "interesting. ... I wish we had done it before."

The commission chairman said there is no timetable for the next step, which would be to issue RFPs for firms interested in a public-private partnership. IMG would help the county craft the proposal, and a citizens committee also would be assembled, likely in an "oversight" role, Nash said.

As for commercial airline service, IMG consultant Lou Wolinetz said, "You've got to have a market. (Airlines) are not going to fly here if they don't have a reason to."

Those opposed to commercial airline service at Briscoe cite concerns over noise, health and declining property values.

Community activist Gaye McNeil of Lawrenceville said Tuesday's session "has given me a good feeling in that citizens will be a part of what happens at Briscoe." She describes her position as anti-commercialization, not anti-privatization.

IMG's Steckler said reasons to privatize would be to improve the economic performance of the airport, helping the airport in achieving its goals, and to lower cost and user fees. Currently, Briscoe is run by the county Transportation Department.

Lynette Howard, District 2 commissioner, noted that recently a major corporation housed its entire air fleet at another airport rather than Briscoe. "If we had what they wanted, they would not have gone there," Howard said. "What were we missing?"

As for the RFP process, IMG officials advised the BOC to present a united front. "If the county doesn't have its act together politically, bidders are not likely to get in the middle," Steckler said.

Also, IMG advised Gwinnett to "never make anything concerning the airport a General Fund obligation." Steckler noted that other privatized airports are geared to pay for themselves.



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